SIFE students driving change worthy of support

2012-07-12 12:56

I was fortunate to be asked again to be a judge at the annual Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) awards today. SIFE is an international organisation that mobilises tertiary education students to address social challenges using entrepreneurail thinking as captured by its by-line, "a head for business, a heart for the world."

Every year, students from the 27 member institutions in South Africa present their programmes and results to judging panels make up of mostly business representatives. All vie for the top spot in South Africa which will see them representing their country in the international championship - this year it will be hosted in Washington.

Each year this competition leaves me inspired by the country we live in today. While we face many social challenges, SIFE is encouraging young people to apply their minds and talents to addressing these challenges while learning valuable commercial skills.

The University of Fort Hare, for example, is addressing the challenge of no electricity in a rural village by helping the community to introduce a biogass system fed by the dung of the plentiful herds of Ngunu cattle in the area. They have helped to start up a bread baking business that uses the electricity to sell bread to the community - and this contributes towards the funding of the biogass system.

Through the efforts of SIFE students from the University of Zululand, a co-operative farming rose geranium plants and selling the essential oils into the manufacturing sector has been started by unemployed youth in the province. SIFE has facilitated grant funding from the Department of Trade and Industry, and has secured a local farmer as a mentor to the project. These oils are in high demand, and the co-operative is off to a good start.

The scale of the SIFE movement is stagerring. This year 39 countries are represented and host 1600 teams initiating these kinds of programmes. In South Africa, 1600 students are active in the organisation represented in 27 teams from institutions across the provinces.

That's 1600 young leaders who are building social and environmental values as the scaffolding for their thinking and their actions. That's 1600 students who are gaining great entrepreneurial skills - starting and building sustainable programmes out of nothing but their drive and ingenuity.

But what always strikes me as equally remarkable is the skills they build in presenting and marketing themselves and their programmes to judging panels and audiences. Each presentation is delivered by a team of about five beautifuly dressed and choreographed members who between them commit a slick 30 minute scripted presentation to memory without fluffing a line. Another team member manages an audio visual presentation that supports their message and the juding panel is provided with an annual report for each programme. These skills will stand them in good stead as they stand up to be considered in an increasingly competitive job market and business environment.

This is a programme well worth supporting as a volunteer, as a business advisor to one of the University teams or as a sponsor. The organisation has been around for a long time and it is delivering results. To consider SIFE as part of your CSI portfolio contact CEO Laetitia de Wet on 016 341 3403 or ldewet@sife.org.

www.socialinnovations.co.za

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